Who doesn’t love a local festival inspired by dowdy farmers, reenacted for hundreds of years by a procession of lanterns (that end the evening in flames) and children with spitball assault rifles. Answer: no one. Do I have your attention?
Welcome to the (seemingly innocent and wholesome) Festa dell Rificolona! To the uneducated eye, it is a perfectly quaint event involving one contingent of children processing with lit lanterns while another (perhaps slightly more unusual) contingent uses long pipes and putty to shoot spitballs at the passing paper targets. Everyone involved seems perfectly happy with the situation, so you assume it’s all part of the fun. It is. And it is fun, if a bit of an odd way to honor the eve of the birth of the Virgin Mary.
The story goes that peasants used to travel to Florence from the country with their products and wares on the eve of the Virgin’s birth, September 7th, to pray, participate, and set up their stalls for the following day. Traveling at night they used candles and lanterns to light their way. To the refined and snooty city folk, the farmers looked a bit “shabby chic,” which earned them some unfortunate nicknames. One in particular, fieruculona, was a combination of the word for “local fair” and the vulgar word for “ass,” perhaps referring to the peasant women’s more “rotund” shape. This word eventually became Rificolona, the name of this festival and also a word used today to refer to someone (usually a woman) who is dressed badly, still a huge faux pas in Italy. Makes sense right? Glad you’re with me.
So today, the children parading with their lanterns are playing the parts of the farmers, the Rificolone and the ones with the spitballs are the local Florentines out to mock them. This was once done with watermelon seeds and rinds, so really, I think there has been progress. The whole event culminates in Piazza Santissima Annunziata, where the peasants originally spent the night and where the stalls were, and still are, set up on September 8th for the Virgin’s birth.
In truth, it’s a visual feast of the lanterns, children, and families enjoying themselves. There is candy and one can’t ask for a better setting. Besides, most of the Italians I asked couldn’t remember what the history behind the event was, so maybe we should just call it the Festival of lanterns, spitballs, and laughter. Better, no? Just be careful not to offend one of the spitballers! Those little pellets can hurt.
For more fun pictures and info, check out our ladies over at Florence for Free and here is some specific information for this year’s event. Enjoy!